By Christian Engström - 12th April 2013
If the new “free trade” agreement between the EU and the US contains an IP chapter like Acta, we will have to kill it, just like we killed Acta
Free trade agreements are increasingly used to force countries to adopt ever stricter intellectual property laws, but EU citizens won’t stand for it, writes Christian Engström.
In January and February 2012, hundreds of thousands of citizens took to the icy streets all over Europe to protest against Acta, the anti-counterfeiting trade agreement. As a result, the European parliament rejected Acta in July 2012.
There are several reasons why so many ordinary citizens decided to take action against Acta. On form, it was negotiated in secret behind closed doors, and was an attempt to introduce legislation in Europe through the back door, circumventing the elected parliaments of both the EU and the member states. On substance, it contained an intellectual property (IP) chapter that would have harmed access to medicines and restricted freedom of the internet. But thanks to the actions of ordinary citizens, we were able to stop the Acta treaty.
But the copyright industry never gives up in its attempts to take control of the internet. Acta is dead, but the music and film industry associations of America have already found a new trade agreement where they will try to insert the same harmful payload as in Acta.
The EU and the US are preparing to start negotiating a new agreement called the transatlantic trade and investment partnership. Just as with Acta, the negotiations will be carried out behind closed doors and in secret. Just as with Acta, the agreement seeks to introduce new legislation through the back door.
And just as with Acta, documents have already started leaking, showing that we will have to fight once again to defend freedom on the internet. The leaked proposal from the EU commission for a negotiating mandate says that they will once again try to include an IP chapter, just like Acta. So it will be déjà vu all over again, it seems.
Expect the big US film and record companies to try to reintroduce three-strikes, censorship of file sharing sites, and harsher punishments for file sharers. Expect the big US pharmaceutical companies to cynically try to make it more difficult for people in need to get access to cheap generic medicines. And expect the EU commission to agree with them and try to give them what they want.
But there is one thing that will be different this time around. Now we have hundreds of thousands of citizens who have already protested against a free trade agreement once, and won. They already know that free trade agreements are increasingly used to force countries to adopt ever stricter intellectual property laws, at the request of the copyright and patent lobby groups. They recognise the Acta provisions to turn internet service providers into a private surveillance police force whenever they reappear in other international agreements. And, above all, they know that it really makes a difference when ordinary citizens show the members of the European parliament that they care about an issue.
Free trade is a very good thing and something we need more of, especially in these economic times. But if the new “free trade” agreement between the EU and the US contains an IP chapter like Acta, we will have to kill it, just like we killed Acta. But the good news is that this time, we have hundreds of thousands of activists who have already done it once, and know what to do if it has to be done again, and who know that we can win.
Christian Engström is a member of parliament's internal market and consumer protection committee